Through his decade long campaign of dominance over Gaul’s Celtic tribes Julius Caesar happened upon a great bout of luck and general momentum in pointing his spears towards the sub-alpine Jura Mountains. There he discovered the Sequani and Arverni tribes allied but weakened by ill-advised alliances with bordering Germanic tribes that left many in servitude. Perhaps the greater of two evils was the only savior for the Sequani as they enlisted Caesar’s help at the loss of great resources but, these proud mountain people would quickly join the Arverni-lead revolt against the Roman general under leadership of chieftain Vercingtorix. Successful as the fabled hero and his allied Gallic tribes were initially, Caesar’s cunning tendrils drove the allied leadership apart and into pieces in what is famously a source of great pride and symbol of self-sufficient resistance for descendants of the Gauls. That the great smudge of history remembers the Celtic tribes of France, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland for their well-fought conquering and not the wealth of culture they provided for the late Roman empire. For their past allegiances with Caesar the Sequania would survive with some independence, later reclaiming more of their own territory as Rome splintered under Nero, the culture and territory they’d fought for would remain distinct among these peoples well into the fourth century CE until the fall of the empire.
Themes of independence and pride in self-sufficiency have been major point of view for musician Nokturn (Dyster) since forming the aptly named Autarcie back in 2006 along with collaborative musician Anti (ex-Ciel Nocturne) who left the fray after their fifth full-length ‘Retour en Crasse’ (2015). With new collaboration (Sacrificia Mortuorum drummer Skogsvandrer) comes a newly realized sound on ‘Sequania’, the projects sixth full-length and most polished performance to date. If you’ve come to this release expecting the collapsing avant-garde soul of their pre-‘Groupuscule’ (2013) works, which I’d compare to Ungfell, a certain era of Peste Noire, and the messier side of Mortifera, you’ll find an album much more dedicated to the legacy of melodic (and semi-melodic) material inherent to French black metal history. The progression of this project would be easier to sum if not for ‘Retour en Crasse’ which was more or less a reversion and refinement of what the band were working towards with ‘Époque révolue’ (2012) but on a grand scale and with appropriate levels of defiance. Here with ‘Sequania’ those attitudes are embodied in stories of resilient ancestors and great battles, my favorite of which is “Terre Brulee” which I assume is a nod to Vercingtorix’ scorched earth tactics in defiance of Caesar.
The style of ‘Sequania’ is more distinctly melodic than previous works, including ‘Groupuscule’; This new modus could be reasonably compared to Aorlhac, Angantyr, and to a lesser degree Belenos. The opener “Dans La Chenae” had me (oddly enough) alternately considering the highly melodic work from Shambless as well as the more melodic side of Taake but, with a nigh baroque sensibility tying together the finer melodies within. Perhaps calling the instrumentation distinctly ‘French’ is a bit lazy, the use of the French language throughout is perhaps enough to invoke that observation but, I would say the average person could mistake certain periods of French music for any other. Instead I would invoke a general spirit of mid-90’s pagan metal tradition when describing the overall affect of ‘Sequania’. It is infectiously melodic, generally succinct, and impressively varied. While I do have a few year education in the French language there is some small barrier in entirely deciphering the entirety of Autarcies lyrics by ear, perhaps my education was too formal and flawed, but the melodic drive of the record offers universal tongue for those ears who would worry about missing the tone of this sort of work.
The arrangement of ‘Sequania’ defines Side A and Side B distinctly with some emphasis on heroic allied anthems on the first side and enduring historic legacy expressed on the second. The title track serves as a great ‘epic’ to cap off Side A and remains one of the more accessible, repeatable songs on the album. Where the momentum begins to need a break after that eight minute climb towards the peak of the record “Virelai d’ivraie” has a grounding effect with a decidedly modern folkish approach kicking off a the atmospherically driven Side B. This division between worlds is less obvious with the album left on repeat as the beginning and end lose their places but the punctuation of “Virelai d’ivraie” provides an adept change of pace and tone that is vital to the repeatable nature of the full listen. I found I could leave this record on repeat for hours upon hours without interruption and stay pleased with it for at least 3-4 listens in a row. Whether or not the overall arrangement took this into account, it is easy to recommend a full listen as the flow of the record is its great strength even as the melodies become overly familiar. I am giving this album a moderately high recommendation to folks who generally enjoy melodic black metal, and a very high nod towards folks who warm quickly to folkish post-Renaissance melody. For preview I would suggest “Dans La Chenaie” as an easy attention grabber, “Sequania” for a grand statement, and “Terre Brulee” to offset those more obvious melodies with something more understated.
Un roi nommé par le destin. 3.75/5.0
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